Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

WI Could Still Get Higher Speed Rail

Minnesota is hatching a Twin Cities-to-Milwaukee-to-Chicago plan, putting Gov. Walker on the spot.

By - Aug 27th, 2013 11:50 am


In 2008, California voters approved a proposal to create high speed rail going 200 miles per hour from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Despite funding challenges, the project is expected to break ground next year. The economic rationale is powerful: it would better connect the two largest cities in California, the world’s ninth largest economy.

Yet if you look at the corridor from Twin Cities to Milwaukee to Chicago, you could make just as strong an argument for a better rail connection. While LA and San Francisco have a combined population of 17.1 million, the three Midwestern cities total 14.4 million people, and are the home base for 22 Fortune 500 companies (including five in Milwaukee) compared to just 13 for LA and San Francisco.

As for connecting high speed rail to airport travelers, the airports of LA and San Francisco have 53 million combined boardings per year while the three Midwestern cities total 52 million combined boardings at their airports.

Nor is the distance by rail that different. San Francisco to LA is 378 miles compared to 429 miles for Twin Cities to Milwaukee to Chicago. But there is already a long-established rail line for the three Midwestern cities, while the train from San Francisco goes to Bakersfield but there is no rail corridor through the Tehachapi Mountains into the Los Angeles Basin, which will add considerable costs to California’s venture.

Across the globe, trains work best on shorter trips between highly populated cities. According to the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission, more than a million people travel annually between Chicago and the Twin Cities by air and more than 10 million by car. Those numbers will continue to rise, as metro area growth by 2040 is projected to be 34 percent in Twin Cities and 28 percent in Chicago. High speed rail (200mph service) would mean Chicago was little more than 2.5 hours away from Twin Cities, while Milwaukee and Minneapolis would be less than a two hour trip.

Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, points to California, Europe and Japan and says high speed rail is an inevitable addition to our midwestern corridor. “It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of whether Milwaukee will be part of it or not. How much better would it be for the Milwaukee economy if you were less than a half hour from O’Hare by rail and you can get a plane to anywhere in the world?”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker famously refused the $820 million in federal funds to create a 110 mile per hour rail connection from Milwaukee to Madison (extending the existing route from Chicago), and there’s little sign of that idea being revived. But there is increasing momentum to strengthen the rail connection between Chicago, Milwaukee and Twin Cities, with some of it even winning Walker’s support.

Ridership increased 132 percent between 1997 and 2012 on the Amtrak Hiawatha line from Milwaukee to Chicago, rising from 361,000 to 838,355 riders annually —  more than double the 55 percent increase nationwide for Amtrak.

In response to this, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation plans to add trains to the route, boosting the number of daily trips from seven to 10. Moreover, these would be express trains, stopping only at Mitchell International Airport between the two cities. This would increase the train’s average speed and reduce its travel time by 11 minutes, which is likely to further increase its popularity.

Meanwhile, ridership grew by 16 percent from 2011 to 2012 on the Amtrak Empire Builder line that links Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and points west to Seattle. In response, Amtrak is studying the possibility of  adding a second round trip per day to this line. And Minnesota and Wisconsin have agreed to split the bill for this study, projected to cost $125,000.

That’s an interesting decision for Walker, who has pleased conservatives with his anti-train rhetoric. If Amtrak finds a second trip makes sense, then the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois would have to come to a cost-sharing agreement for capital and operation costs for that portion of the line before the project could proceed. Both Minnesota and Illinois, whose leadership is pro-rail (and would pay much less as most of the route goes through Wisconsin), are likely to approve the idea, which will put Walker in a tough position. If he says no, he looks anti-growth. If he says yes, then why didn’t he take the federal money for Madison to Milwaukee, which could have helped pay for the Chicago to Twin Cities route?

None of these proposed additions, by the way, involve high speed rail but are simply for conventional trains, which can go anywhere from 79 to 90 miles per hour at peak speed. But another plan being studied by Minnesota’s Department of Transportation could bring higher speed rail of up to 110 miles per hour — and six to eight trips per day — from Twin Cities to Milwaukee to Chicago. This reduce the total trip time from 8 hours to 6 hours or less, depending on the number of stops made.

Walker has refused to split the cost of this study, but Minnesota has gone forward on its own, with the help of $15 to $18 million federal funding for high speed rail, including $5 million from Florida, where the governor turned down the federal funds, according to Dan Krom, in charge of Intercity Passenger Rail for Minnesota’s Department of Transportation. (Wisconsin’s forfeited funds went elsewhere.)

“Eventually we will need Wisconsin to be a partner (in paying for the creation of higher speed rail), but we are years away from that reality,” says Krom. The study may not be completed until 2015, but an earlier projection estimated the total cost could be $2.4 billion, including $900 million for Minnesota (meaning the costs would be in excess of $1 billion for Wisconsin). “These estimates are dated and we are in the process of updating ridership, revenues and project costs,” Krom notes.

In short, rail will again be an issue when Gov. Walker runs for re-election, and he will be placed in a bizarre position. He supports more rail to both Chicago and Minnesota, but won’t even pay for a study of higher speed rail in this corridor, signaling his adamant opposition. In short, he favors the slowest train travel he can get. Yes, it’s cheaper, but as an opponent might note, you get what you pay for. What feels more like the future, a train traveling up to 90 miles per hour or one going up to 110 miles per hour?

Beyond that is the issue of Madison. There was $820 million in federal funds that could have been used to connect the state capitol with Waukesha County, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Moreover, it would have placed two Wisconsin cities at the center of the Twin Cities to Chicago line, a boon to both Madison and state’s economy. It would have also had stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc, and Watertown.

It looks like we’re going to get more rail from Chicago through Wisconsin to Twin Cities anyway, but Walker is doing everything to make sure it happens in the slowest, most antiquated way possible, and with the fewest stops in Wisconsin.

Business leaders in Wisconsin favor more train travel to Chicago, favored the Kenosha-to-Milwaukee commuter line which the legislature killed and would likely favor higher speed rail from Chicago to Twin Cities, which would better connect 22 Fortune 500 companies. Better transportation, whether by car, plane or train, is always seen as a plus by business leaders. Ultimately, Harnish predicts, true high speed rail of 200 miles per hour will come to this nation at the urging of business leaders. And Milwaukee, as the smallest region, could benefit the most from a high speed, Chicago-to-Twin Cities line. “It’s really up to the Milwaukee business community to make some noise about it,” Harnish says.

Most business leaders, however, are unlikely to do so during the next gubernatorial campaign, as they won’t want to hurt Walker’s chances of getting reelected. But it’s certainly possible to imagine a pro-business Democrat making this a key issue in the campaign, combining it with the issue of jobs growth, and dubbing Walker as the slow growth and slow trains governor. Not enough, perhaps, to unseat an incumbent governor, but the rail discussion could dramatize a hugely-important issue for the future of this state.

Short Takes

-AOL’s decision to slash its websites, laying off 500 of its 1000 employees nationally, looks like it could kill those sites in the Milwaukee metro area. Five employees were let go, including Mark Maley, a former middle-level editor with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and seven more are expected to go in October. is very suburbs-oriented and didn’t cover the city of Milwaukee, so the loss will come for suburban readers.

-Meanwhile, Urban Milwaukee will celebrate its fifth anniversary this Friday, August 30th,  on the rooftop of the Milwaukee Athletic Club, starting at 6 p.m. It’s really meant as a bash for you, our loyal (and very opinionated) readers, so there should be plenty to talk about. I’ll be there, along with Dave and Jeramey and many of our contributors, and we’d love to see you. It’s free but you do have to RSVP here, so we can better plan for the turnout.

Categories: Murphy's Law

45 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: WI Could Still Get Higher Speed Rail”

  1. Jeff says:

    Madison is really out of the loop on this. It’s too far removed to be included on a fast route. It’s also not in the same league as the other cities. Include Madison and then Rochester, Minn., will (rightly) want to be part of this — and the whole point of faster trains is then defeated.

  2. Todd Spangler says:

    I tend to agree with you but have observed that Milwaukee conservative talk radio tends to be unusually effective in galvanizing grass roots opposition to these types of rail projects. That is not as true in St. Louis, but I do sense a general disdain for train travel among ordinary folks such as I’ve worked with. Suburbanites, in particular, seem to have little or no interest in riding trains anywhere. Taking the Amtrak to Kansas City or Chicago would be my first choice in visiting either city, probably even in visiting Milwaukee, but most people that I know would never even consider it. I think it is also true that family travel via rail is considerably more expensive than it is for an individual such as myself. It is the same sort of cost comparison one goes through in deciding on whether to fly or drive somewhere. In the end, cost and value tend to trump most everything else for the majority of people.

  3. Lincolin says:

    One word here:

    We need to push for innovative technology. High speed rail is not 110mph. High Speed rail is what they have overseas. I think Walker had a point in turning down the plan as proposed. We need to think long term. If we want to be leaders in true “high speed,” then we should push for something that has long term potential rather than old technology which will inevitably be replaced in the next few decades. Hyperloop.

  4. Joe says:

    I’m still surprised leaders and business owners in the Dells aren’t raising hay about the need for true high-speed rail on the Empire Builder corridor. Imagine the economic boom for them if the playland of the Midwest was less than 2 hours from all three cities…too bad Walker hates it so much and would never do something that makes economic sense.

  5. Bruce Murphy says:

    Joe, the MN plan hasn’t decided on which stops it would have but some versions floated have included a stop at Wisconsin Dells.

  6. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Glad to see something happening here. Walker really screwed this up with his completely bizarre move to ruin rail. Shame, shame, shame on him.

    Lincoln – I love the hyperloop concept, and I love Elon Musk, but there’s no way that’s going to happen at anything remotely close to the cost he proposed…

  7. Bruce Thompson says:

    I thought that by the time he was elected, Walker was so locked into his opposition to the rail grant that he could not possibly not reject it. Talk radio would have lacerated him as just another politician who says one thing during the campaign and does the opposite once the election is safely passed. The only thing that might have made a difference is strong support for the project from the business community, but they were unwilling to embarrass the new governor (last I checked the Milwaukee 7 web site listed recruiting Talgo as one of their successes).

  8. Garrick Jannene says:

    Has anybody thought of shifting the Empire Builder over to going through Madison, essentially following the same route as the proposed Hiawatha extension all of the way to the Twin Cities?

    That way you’d only have to upgrade the rails for higher speeds once and not have to worry about potentially cutting out a decently sized metropolitan area in Madison. This would set up a situation where the Hiawatha could stop in the Brookfields, Oconomowocs, and Portages of the world, and the Empire Builder could be cut down to just Minneapolis, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago along the relevant stretch. Even with a GE Genesis humming along at 110mph, that would be a very quick trip.

    You’d have your express train and your regional train, and everybody could be happy, except the 5,000-some people in poor Columbus.

    In regards to Rochester, my very unscientific act of looking at a map says the rail lines exist, but I don’t know if that much rerouting would be worth picking up the city. I suppose that’s what Minnesota is paying the millions of dollars to study :P.

  9. mkelover says:

    Clearly the MKE->CHI line has shown tremendous growth and definitely deserves more attention with upgrades, more trains, etc. But the MKE->MSP line hasn’t shown this growth, in fact there’s still only one train daily that goes there. We’re trying to force demand where none has previously existed nor show signs of growing. It’s still cheaper and faster to get to MSP on a plane versus rail. It still is $250 roundtrip and takes a minimum of 6.5 hours each way. Even if you cut the time in half, it still makes more sense to fly in a fraction of that time.

  10. Big Al says:

    mkelover – I think the reason the MKE-MSP line hasn’t shown growth is because it’s slow and there’s only 1 train daily. I lived in MSP for 6 years and looked into taking the train to MKE several times, but it’s too difficult to schedule when there’s only one option. Increasing the # of trips would help make the service more appealing to travelers as they’d have options when to arrive and depart.

    The C&NW, Milwaukee Road and the CB&Q all ran passenger trains from Chicago to MSP for almost 30 years and the trips took just over 6 hours – why can’t we figure this out now?

  11. Art Hackett says:

    Is there any chance the mothballed Talgo trains could be put into service on this line? I’ve heard there were some compatibility issues but if they work, they’re cheaper than starting from scratch. And they’d be a sharp stick in the Governor’s droopy eye.
    As for the local lords of loud on the radio, I suggest they do what the enviros would do with a bulldozer at a mine. Lay down in front of it.

  12. Marcus says:

    First, Suburbanites don’t take trains or consider them because there are limited options available. When rail is an convenient option available to them, many people will choose it. The largest demographic groups who prefer rail are older folks and people under 35, many of whom do not own a car or have very little interest in driving hundreds of miles. Second, people at either end of the line (MSP-MKE-CHI) always bring up how it’s faster to fly, and usually cite some $69 fare they saw in a Southwest ad, although it’s usually not available. But most importantly, you have to remember trains serve many communities where air service is extremely limited, is extremely expensive, or (frequently) does not exist at all. And inter-city bus lines have started pulling out of many or these areas as well. Illinois has done a great job, in cooperation with Michigan and Missouri, of build a very nice network of passenger rail, which , thanks to the extreme views of Walker and Company, we in Minnesota and Wisconsin have been largely cut out of.

  13. Gene Poon says:

    Article says, “…The economic rationale is powerful: it would better connect the two largest cities in California,” referring to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    Los Angeles IS the largest.

    San Francisco is NOT Number Two. It is Number Four.

    The two largest cities in California, Los Angeles and SAN DIEGO (over 1.3 million vs. about 820,000 for San Francisco and about 945,000 for San Jose), are already connected by frequent one-seat intercity train service and connecting commuter train service.

  14. You’re correct. It should have read regions, implying the Los Angeles combined statistical area and the San Jose-San Francisco combined statistical area.

  15. D says:

    We don’t need 110 mph trains. We need ones that can go 200 mph+. Walker dodged a bullet, er train here by not tying us to an expensive, obsolete piece of technology. Propose real high speed rail. It might not be politically doable at the moment but at least you are reaching for exciting things. Conservatives are anti-train but they aren’t stupid. They see what Europe and Asia are building and laugh at what we are pushing here.

  16. Garrick Jannene says:

    For 200mph, you’re not only going to need to upgrade (or build new) track, but you’re going to have to electrify it and buy an entirely new fleet of rolling stock

    Upgrades towards 110mph won’t make doing 200mph more expensive. If anything, adding the intermediary step will make it cheaper. At 110mph, Amtrak can use its existing engines and stock with some minor modifications. That’s why that number keeps appearing again and again. It’s the max speed of the GE Genesis engines that Amtrak owns a lot of.

  17. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Gene Poon and Jeramey: I was talking about metro areas of course, and LA is 2nd in the nation and San Francisco is 11th in the nation in metro population, while San Diego is 17th and San Jose 34th. The plan in California is to eventually extend the rail to San Diego, but the line is naturally starting with what in common parlance are the two biggest cities.

  18. D says:


    I understand its more expensive and time consuming to build but that is the next step isn’t it? 110 mph towards Madison or Chicago might work for some people but towards Minneapolis? You aren’t challenging MSP-MKE-CHI air travel at those speeds. I’d prefer we start investing in the future, not in the past just so the train fanboys can have something to hang their hats on. As a Milwaukeean, I don’t really care about mediocre travel speeds to a city a third our size.

  19. Duncan says:

    There’s a comment above about the concept that Wisconsin Dells should be very interested in rail service. On the contrary, the Dells are a good example as to why rail isn’t ever going to be augmented anywhere in Wisconsin.

    The Dells are a family oriented vacation destination, and the tourist destinations aren’t all located in a walkable strip. Add 4 train fares and a bunch of cab rides around the area, there’s no way you beat using a car and a tank of gas, not to mention the huge pain in the ass it’d be not having a car on vacation.

    Chicago is the only city that could benefit from augmented train service for tourism. As far as business travel goes .. airfare isn’t that expensive. Even at 200mph, the extra $200 it’ll cost to take the plane gives you 4 hours of time back RT. No one traveling on a plane is costing their business less than $50 an hour .. at best it’s a wash.

    Star Trek transporter technology will be common before high(er) speed rail in Wisconsin.

  20. tim haering says:

    I love the idea of rail. As a UWM Junior heading to DC for a political internship, I took Amtrak. It was a wonderful trip. But if rail cannot rival air for price and speed, it is doomed. When my old boss first pitched high speed rail, folks almost unanimously didn’t want 100 MPH trains in their backyards, much lass 200 MPH. Actual HIGH speed rail is a non starter in WI. Unless it goes at least partially under-ground and folks can drive over it, out of sight out of mind, “high-er” speed rail is right. But it won’t sell. Maybe Hiawatha ridership is up 132%, but the pertinent statistic is – how much did profits go up? That line has never made any money. It’s a welfare program. And now we have ELon Musk’s Hyperloop. Forget rail. It’s a moribund philosophy and a zombified technology.

  21. David Coles says:

    The airport comparison is misleading, as the San Francisco metro area is also served by two other large airports – in Oakland and San Jose. If the number cited includes boardings/year in these airports, that should be clarified. If not, then the comparison to California becomes much less favorable, at least in this regard.

  22. David Ciepluch says:

    There are no magic bullets for the transportation industry. Improved rail transportation options is one solution of many. All need to work towards reduction of fuel consumption that will have rising fuel cost and more limited availability over time. Other options include vehicles fueled by natural and renewable gas. I have been driving CNG vehicles for 14 years and current equivalent cost is $1.27 gallon on 42nd and Lincoln Avenue. Electric car recharge is at about $0.40 an equivalent gallon. And high mileage vehicles.

    Most easy oil, coal, and natural gas on the planet has been extracted and consumed. It takes one unit of energy (cheaper natural gas) to extract two units of tar sand oil in Canada. This is what Keystone XL is for, to export higher priced oil at over $100 barrel to overseas markets, and not the USA for cheap consumption. By 2030, Saudi Arabia will have scant oil resources for export since they will need it all for their growing population. China and India have larger middle classes than the USA and will pay the higher prices. Most USA sources of oil are left under water and harder and more expensive to access and come with higher risk of environmental catastrophes.

    We need improvement in all transportation venues including more efficient rail. Most economic development occurs along transportation routes. This has been the story for thousands of years.

  23. Tom D says:

    Garrick Jannene (post 8): In 1972 Amtrak ran two daily Chicago-Minneapolis trains, one express (like you suggest) and other local (the same stops as today’s Empire Builder).

    The second (slower) train was called the “North Coast Hiawatha” and followed the route of today’s Empire Builder as far west as Fargo. West of Fargo, it took a slower but more scenic and more populated route, basically following I-94 and I-90 into Idaho where it rejoined the Empire Builder line into Seattle. The other train was the Empire Builder taking today’s route between Chicago and the Twin Cities and again west of Fargo. (Within Washington State, both trains took the same route into Seattle, but a route no longer used today.)

    East of Minneapolis, The North Coast Hiawatha made the same stops as today’s Empire Builder, while the Empire Builder ran express–non-stop Milwaukee-La Crosse, and again non-stop La Cross-Minneapolis. Milwaukee-Minneapolis took 5:55 on the express Empire Builder and 6:15 on the local Hiawatha. The eastbound trains were a little faster (5:45 on the Empire Builder and 6:10 on the Hiawatha).

    Bottom line: Reducing the number of stations between Milwaukee and Minneapolis from 7 to 1 only cut running time by 20-25 minutes each way.

  24. Tom D says:

    David Coles (post 21): if you include San Jose’s and Oakland’s airports, it seems fair to include Chicago Midway, and Midway has more passengers than San Jose and Oakland combined.

  25. mbradleyc says:

    All the political rhetoric is repulsive. If everyone would stop vilifying each other and quit with the childish name-calling it would be better.

    The original plan to put a line to Madison was poorly reasoned to begin with. The first step should have been to upgrade Chicago to Milwaukee. Even Walker was in favor of that and it would be well underway by now. Making Madison a logical stop on the line will require rerouting the line entirely and constructing new tracks right through the city. The plan as presented was impractical. That was an opportunity squandered by petty politics on both sides.

    I totally favor high speed rail, but the real thing, not half measures for the cost it would take. I don’t own a car and have to use Metra to get around, so I am a fan. I once did a rough estimate on the cost of simply building a European style HS line between Chicago and Milwaukee and it came to about 4 billion dollars just for construction. I don’t think that would cover the land acquisition, not to mention the litigation which would probably go on for years.

    The Hyperloop idea is fascinating. I’d love to know how that would work in the real world. I believe it would need to be entirely underground though, so the cost of that would truly be astronomical. I’m not sure it’s worth it.

  26. Tom D says:

    mbradleyc (post 25): the proposed Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison train would NOT have required “constructing new tracks right through the city”. All the right-of-way that train would have used already has active railroad tracks. Within central Madison, those tracks are a block or two south of East Washington Avenue.

    Routing a Milwaukee-La Crosse-Minneapolis train via Madison would have added about 26 miles to the trip, but there was no certainty that the trains would have been routed via La Crosse; the route between Madison and Minneapolis was undecided (there was a possibility of running the HSR through Eau Claire instead of La Crosse).

    If Madison doesn’t get HSR through Milwaukee, it might instead get a more direct route through Janesville. If that happens, it would be quicker to route Chicago-Minneapolis trains via Janesville and Madison and bypass Milwaukee entirely.

    The hyperloop seems quite unsafe to me. If one of the pods somehow gets stuck in the tube, how will passengers be rescued halfway down a 200-mile long solid steel tube (especially if the tube is buried underground)?

  27. Allan Eckert says:

    Most (NOT ALL) of you are pretty spot on with your posts. Governor Walker must look cheap as he rewards his road building cronies and the do nothing Milwaukee business community for paying for his political ambitions. Same bat channel. Same bat lies (us little people are fed all the time). Wise up friends and read the tea leaves.

  28. Wendtsc says:

    Whether you agreed with it at the time or not, Walker’s decision to turn down the money was the correct one because of the strings the Obama Administration tied to it. Basically, we would have had no choice but to build a station in downtown Madison which would have added 30 minutes to the schedule for future MKE-MSP corridor trains because of the REQUIRED backing movement out of downtown and then a switching to another line to continue on to Portage. The only even closely practical option would have been an airport only stop which the Madinistas simply refused to accept and spent years pressuring Doyle who eventually caved and agreed to the downtown site.

    Walker had clearly stated while still a MKE County executive that he strongly favored upgrading the MKE-CHI route, however the Obama Administration flatly refused to allow any HSR funding that didn’t include Madison.

    So who do you blame?

    Well, Obama should have allowed the changes because unlike every other HSR project in the country to date, the Hiawatha Corridor could have had faster trains running by the next election cycle and he could have declared a victory. Instead, he looked like the spoiled kid who takes his ball and goes home and now even the arch-conservative Anderson Cooper is questioning his HSR plans.

    As for Walker, he thought he could call the president’s bluff. He thought because he had two other governors also pledging to turn down the money that the president would be open to compromise on a plan that would still allow him to claim victory. He didn’t realize just how little Obama (and especially Ray LaHood) actually cared about the actual projects or the jobs they would create. He didn’t know the real point of HSR was political payback to those who got them to Washington. So, Walker is at fault because he was ignorant and thought he could play county politics with the president!

    Most everyone on this blog gets it! While not the slickest play at the time, its looking more and more like the correct one. Everyone needs to remember Republicans are usually not completely Anti-Rail (John Mica? okay, maybe) just Pro Smart-rail. And many of the people now howling about “Walker’s folly” aren’t Pro Smart-Rail but really Pro Pork-Rail, which in the long run is actually Anti-Rail.

  29. Julio says:

    Living in LA I remember this high speed rail not being very cost effective. From what I understand it would still be cheaper and faster to fly to San Francisco. And it would be cheaper to drive and not much faster.
    I’m curious to see what the cost would be for a high speed rail here. I drive to Chicago at least 2x a month with my wife. Taking into account gas and parking, It is faster and cheaper than the Amtrak. I really wish it wasn’t the case.

  30. Allan Eckert says:

    Bruce, PLEASE on a personal note thank you for posting my opinion. But if at all possible can you edit my comment to Allan E. instead of using my full name. I do not think in today’s world I feel comfortable with my full name appearing for the world to see. Thank you for spreading the word. I am a card member of NARP and WisARP and attempt to do what I can do verbally and financially.

  31. Tom D says:

    Wendtsc (post 28):

    You are correct that the downtown Madison train station location “would have added 30 minutes to the schedule for future MKE-MSP corridor trains because of the REQUIRED backing movement out of downtown and then a switching to another line to continue on to Portage”. But that wasn’t a good enough reason for turning down the 100% federally-funded track improvements for Madison train service.

    It will be years (or decades) before Milwaukee-Minneapolis HSR is ready to run, and when (and if) that happens, the Madison train station could simply be moved to a better location on First Street between Johnson and Washington. This site is well under 2 miles from the State Capitol (a quick, cheap cab ride), is on a more direct rail line to Minneapolis (no “REQUIRED backing movement” and no “added 30 minutes”) and has incredible bus service (10 buses/hour) to/from the downtown Capitol Square and to UW. It is right across the street from where the planned Talgo maintenance facility was to be located. Many “Madinistas” supported this site:

    Like it or not, Madison is growing much faster than Milwaukee and is on track to surpass Milwaukee in population within 100 years (much like Columbus Ohio surpassed Cleveland). And well before that (by 2060?), Dane County will become more populous than Milwaukee County.

    Wisconsin has two very important cities, Milwaukee AND Madison. Both need fast efficient rail service to Chicago. Milwaukee already has it, and Madison will get it eventually. It is in Milwaukee’s interest that Madison’s rail service be via Milwaukee, because if Madison gets HSR directly to Chicago (following I-90 or US 12), the fastest Chicago-Minneapolis rail route will go directly through Madison and bypass Milwaukee entirely.

  32. Patrick says:

    What benefit does this offer? It doesn’t save anyone time, it doesn’t save money, bus shuttles are offered already for those that don’t have cars. So what is the point beside this nostalgic feeling for what used to be the old, regressive, non progressive, backwards, “not getting with the times” way of getting around? Liberals like to tell conservatives that we’re nostalgic for something that never used to actually be. Well what do they think this is? There is a reason we got away from trains, people don’t like riding them more then using their car. Also if Minnesota wants this route to Chicago they can pay for it and we’ll gladly let it go through our state. Enough of the old, “we want this and because we want it and we see that it may benefit you we want YOU to help pay for it.” Well the world doesn’t work like that.

  33. Tina says:

    I bet walker’s Koch ties has something to do with his hardline opposition to mass transit. If Wisconsinites are dependent on automobiles for transportation we’ll also be dependent on oil refineries for our gasoline. Good work boys.

  34. Luke says:

    We need to distinguish between “high speed” rail (200+ miles per hour) and just plain old slightly higher rail servive. “High speed” rail is hugely expensive because you need to rebuild the existing track bed (and also acquire additional land on either side of the rail bed). In France where “high speed” rail is used there are no intersections (traffic is routed above or below the track), and there is fencing on both sides (to prevent a cow or other animal from wandering onto the tracks). There is no realistic possibility for “high speed” rail in Wisconsin, primarily because of cost issues, as well as track bed and land acquisition requirements. We will probably be better off avoiding the term “high speed” rail because it is just a fiction.

    China’s “high speed” rail has many problems.

    California’s “high speed” train—which no longer will be “high speed” in parts—suffers from cost overruns and a myriad of other problems. We should just sit back and watch how the California debacle plays out, and then decide if we want slightly faster rail service.

  35. Tom D says:

    Patrick (post 32): You wrote: “There is a reason we got away from trains, people don’t like riding them more then using their car.”

    The primary reason we got away from trains was that heavily taxed trains could not compete with heavily subsidized highways.

    As to whether people prefer trains or cars… in NY City (the only place in the US with a comprehensive rail network), most people choose trains over cars. Most NYC residents don’t even own a car (and many that do use it only on weekends, on vacation, or for shopping–its hard to do Costco on the bus).

  36. David Ciepluch says:

    Many people now and more in the future will be priced out of car ownership. As a country and region, we need vastly improved and ultra efficient transportation modes in all sectors including mass transit. The USA is 5% of world population, and consumes 40% of the planets available energy supply. The transportation industry accounts for about 40% of energy consumption, almost all in fossil fuels. This is not sustainable for a nation in contraction mode.

    At the end of WWII, the USA held 60% of the world market with the planetary competition all but wiped out. Today we are at 18% and in decline, China at 18% and on the rise.

    There is no one simple solution but many small ones that take detailed planning, solving, agreement, and implementation. Many solutions are apolitical but become politicized. We have the least educated legislature in modern history that is beholden to corporate forces, wealth and power. We are currently a state and nation of squabblers in a state of stagnation, divisivenss and obstruction.

  37. Bill Sell says:

    Air travel time is not merely the flight time (200-300 mph) between short haul airports, it is the cab from downtown, it is arriving for TSA check, it is the standing or slow-walk to the TSA check; it is finishing TSA check early enough to make the plane; it is sitting at the gate while others finish the TSA check. Cab + TSA = at least an hour, more in larger cities. Arrival is that walk past many gates, the escalator to baggage, the baggage carousel goes round and round.

    The train? Downtown it’s a short walk. You board without a TSA check; you may check bags if you wish; you are not charged for checking or carry-on. You step aboard at the last minute if you wish; no one waits for you; you do not wait for others. Upon arrival you can move to the exit door while the train is still in motion.

  38. David C says:

    I have taken Amtrak to Chicago many times. Hope on close to the airport. Parking is easy, trains arrive on time to the minute. They stop long enough to allow you on and off you go. Downtown Chicago in 1 hour 16 minutes. Close to many venues, some within walking distance or take a crazy ride in a Chicago cab. It is not necessary to go 200 mph that has many barriers of cost, safety and environmental.

  39. Chris Jacobs says:

    Given the price, stops, and slow speed of most regular trains now, the trip to very distant places over 200 miles is often not worth the trouble.
    A high speed train seems like a good idea in teory, but if it were ever set up, I can see fairly strict weight allowances as far as baggage and heightened security being a reality. If homeland security has their way (or more accurately VIPR) , regular checks for train travel will be a reality very soon.

    Safety has been a real concern in train travel recently. Particular examples are the high speed train in Spain killing 79 people and injuring 140 last month, the Swiss train crash with 40 injured in July, and the commuter train crash in Connecticut in May where 70 went hospitalized. I get that it is statistically safer than driving, but I am not particularly confident in a lot of train drivers judgements (in comparison to say airline pilots), given the circumstances of most crashes.

  40. Tom D says:

    Chris Jacobs, you cited three recent worldwide train wrecks to suggest that train safety isn’t all that great.

    In the US, passenger trains are MUCH safer than automobiles (especially for passengers–train drivers sit in a much more vulnerable location in front), and I’ll use the three accidents you cited to show why.

    Soon (perhaps by 2015\6) accidents like those you cited in Spain and Switzerland will become impossible in the US.

    Federal regulations mandate that something called “Positive Train Control” be installed on all passenger (and most freight) rail lines by late 2015. PTC will prevent trains from speeding (the cause of the Spanish crash) or proceeding past a “red” signal (the apparent cause of the Swiss incident). I’m not sure if there is a similar European mandate.

    Current federal regulations also require that US HSR equipment be able to withstand one million pounds without deforming. Europe has no similar requirement. Because of this rule, Amtrak’s 160 mph HSR (Acela) equipment is about twice as heavy as its European counterparts. Just as occupants are safer in a 3-ton SUV than in a 1.5-ton sedan, US rail passengers are much safer because their cars are so strong and heavy.

    This is illustrated by the recent Connecticut crash in which two trains collided with great force (see the photo in my link). Despite this only 5 people (out of about 700 on the two trains) were seriously hurt and nobody died.

    The commuter railroad whose trains crashed in Connecticut (“Metro-North”) provides about 1/3 as much “people transportation” as the entire Milwaukee County road system. In 2011, Milwaukee County roads (everything from local streets up through expressways) carried 6.4 billion vehicle miles. In 2011, Metro-North carried 2.6 billion passenger miles.

    But while Milwaukee County had 174 traffic deaths in the last 3 years (2010-12), Metro-North hasn’t had an on-board accident-related passenger death in at least 25 years; Metro-North’s last on-board death (I’m excluding “other” deaths like onboard heart attacks) was in 1988, but even that wasn’t a passenger, it was an employee (a driver).

  41. Kyle says:

    Tom – while I don’t disagree with your points, I feel the need to point out that your vehicle miles and passenger miles are not apples to apples, unless you assume that every vehicle mile in all of Milwaukee in 2011 had only one occupant (presumably the driver). Vehicle occupancy rates in 2009 for cars were lower than those of SUVs, but were still 1.59 for Milwaukee. That brings your 6.4 billion vehicle miles to almost 10.2 billion passenger miles, so about 4 times the passenger miles of the Metro-North. I agree with your overall point, but incorrect comparisions muddy the water and detract from your ability to make it.

  42. Tom D says:

    Kyle, where did you get the figure of 1.59 people per car? The only numbers I’ve been able to come up with are for commutation (the bulk of all driving) which are under 1.1 person per “car, truck or van” in Milwaukee County (derived from the Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey).

    We also need to throw out VMTs by trucks (the railroad numbers I cited include no miles traveled by passenger or freight train crews).

    If you discard 10% of all VMTs (because they are for trucks–this is a guess on my part) and assume that all other vehicles average 1.4 people each (which I think is high), Milwaukee County’s 6.4 billion VMT comes to 8.1 billion person-miles, one-third of which (2.7 billion person-miles) is very close to what this commuter railroad logs (2.6 billion passenger miles).

    I would love to see your source for 1.59 people/car. Likewise, if you’re interested, I will provide my derivation of under 1.1 person per “car, van or truck”.

  43. Kyle says:

    Tom – I asked Google for “average car occupancy milwaukee”, but settled for national statistics from the Department of Energy here:

    I used the 2009 numbers, but they aren’t much different for 2001 or 1995. I would love to see how you came to the 1.1 number, because that seems so much different from the data in my source.

  44. Tom D says:

    Kyle, the American Fact Finder (“AFF”) provides these numbers for Milwaukee County in 2007: of 427,046 workers, 329,016 “drove alone” in a “car, truck or van” and another 41,451 “carpooled” in a “car truck or van”. (Another 24,515 took the bus and the rest presumably walked, cycled, or perhaps worked at home.)

    Unfortunately AFF doesn’t say how many people are in each carpool, but it turns out it doesn’t matter much anyway. Common sense tells us a “carpool” has at least two people (otherwise they would be “driving alone) and no more than 15 (the biggest available van has 15 seats).

    Here’s the surprising part… no matter how many people you assume are in each carpool, the average number of people per vehicle barely budges. If you assume 2 people per carpool, you get 1.059/vehicle. If you assume 5 per carpool, you get 1.098, and if you assume 15 per carpool, you get 1.117/vehicle.

    Since I am reasonably certain that the average Milwaukee County carpool has 5 or fewer people on any given trip, I feel confident in saying that the average car in Milwaukee County has under 1.1000 people when going to and from work.

    If you assume 5 people/car pool, here is the math:

    The 41,451 carpoolers use 8,290 vehicles (there is one extra person, so one carpool has 6 people),
    and the solo drivers use 329,016 vehicles,
    for a total of 337,306 vehicles (cars, trucks or vans).
    Since those vehicles carry a total of 370,467 people,
    you get 1.09831 people per car.

    Here’s how to get the AFF data (each line is a new screen):
    – “Guided Search”
    – “Get me started”
    – select “I’m looking for information from a specific dataset”
    – select “American Community Survey” then “2007 ACS 1-year estimates”
    – select “people” then “Employment” then “Commuting (Journey to work)”
    – select “State…County” under “geographic type” then Wisconsin then Milwaukee then “add to your selections”
    – “skip this step” when asked about race/ethnic groups
    – select table “S0802” (“Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics”)

    Please let me know if this doesn’t work!

  45. Kyle says:

    Tom – I’ll have to check that out when I have a little more time. I will concede that I misrepresented my national numbers (out of haste, not malice), and that your may be closer to true. This study from the early 90’s put Milwaukee’s occupancy rate at 1.166.

    I’ve seen some data below the 1.1 point, but that specifically looks at rush hour only, without accounting for non-peak traffic. It would be nice if this information were more readily available.

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